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The Gena Branscombe Project


Gena Branscombe at 94.

"The life of Gena Branscombe is an inspiring record of a woman of great ability who carved...a viable musical career…when American composers were just coming into their own in this country." (Laurine Elkins-Marlow, Gena Branscombe: American Composer and Conductor, A Study of Her Life and Works; Doctoral Dissertation - 1980). In today's language, Branscombe was a woman who did and had it all, establishing a career in music before marriage and afterwards successfully balancing work with an active family life.

An important "bridge" for American women composers, Gena's professional training and perseverance, European compositional influence, continuous support of American musical organizations and her many contemporary associations helped lay an enduring foundation for modern women in music.

Born in Picton, Ontario in 1881, Branscombe attended the Chicago Musical College as a piano major with an emphasis in composition. European study was essential for her career and in 1909 Gena departed for a year of intensive study of piano with Rudolf Ganz and composition with Englebert Humperdinck.

Gena married John Ferguson Tenney on October 5, 1910 in Ontario and they immediately moved to New York City to pursue their individual careers. Gena's professional life quickly flourished. Throughout her life she credited her husband for his support of her work and his constant help with home and their four daughters: Gena, born in 1911, Vivian Allison in 1913, Betty in 1916 and Beatrice in 1919.

Kathleen Shimeta with Gena Tenney Phenix

During Gena's years in New York City, her professional associations and involvements were numerous. A partial list includes the MacDowell Club of New York, the Association of Women Composers of New York, the General Federation of Women's Clubs, the Society of American Women Composers, the National Association for American Composers and Conductors, the National Federation of Music Clubs and the National League of American Pen Women. Colleagues and friends included conductor Antonia Brico, composers Mrs. H.H.A. Beach, Harriet Ware, Mary Howe, Marion Bauer, Mary Turner Salter and Mabel Daniels.

Gena Branscombe and her mother.

In 1934 Gena founded her women's chorus, Branscombe Choral. She served as its conductor/composer/organizer and fund-raiser for over 20 years, performing extensively in New York City. Radio broadcasts of the concerts extended her audiences far beyond the concert hall.

In 1960, at the request of the Library of Congress, Gena submitted the manuscript and orchestral parts for her oratorio, Pilgrims of Destiny. Other scores were exhibited at the New York City Public Library on 42nd Street in 1963, in an exhibition of works of noted contemporary American women composers. She died in New York City on July 26, 1977.

Ahead of her time, Gena Branscombe's life was filled with family and music. Influenced early by the late German romantic style, she helped develop a 20th century American/Victorian musical voice, with a body of work encompassing 150 art songs, piano and chamber music, as well as choral works, all of which were readily available during her life. A renowned composer and conductor, after her death her richly melodic music seemed lost to history, despite its outstanding beauty. I reintroduce her now to the 21st century.

CD Cover Art-Click for Purchase Information

Audio CD: "Ah! Love, I Shall Find Thee:
Songs of Gena Branscombe"

Enjoy the enchanting and romantic songs of composer Gena Branscombe on CD with 25 songs sung by mezzo-soprano Kathleen Shimeta in partnership with Martin Hennessy on piano.

CD Purchase Information
Sample Track: Ah! Love, I Shall Find Thee (0:48 seconds)
Requires Real Player

For more information contact me.


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The Branscombe Choral

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Imagine a female conductor and composer in a time - the 1920s, 30s and 1940s - when most women could not drive an automobile! In her search for surviving members of The Branscombe Choral, Kathleen has interviewed Choral member Marie Zieries. Mrs. Zieries’ stories of rehearsing and performing with Miss Branscombe are inspiring! The 60 member women’s chorus gave much of themselves in order to bring music alive. The Branscombe Choral performed for commuters at Pennsylvania Station, Grand Central Station, at the first United Nations and for the soldiers at the Navy Hospital in St. Albans, New York. In addition they sang yearly concerts at the Broadway Tabernacle Church and Town Hall in New York City.

See the members of the
Branscombe Choral at the 1949
Branscombe Choral Spring Concert,
Town Hall, New York City

View the list of members of the
Branscombe Choral from
1934 to 1954